A bipartisan duo in the Senate is planning to introduce legislation that would permanently ban earmarks, the legislative practice of securing funding for lawmakers’ pet projects.
Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) will announce their proposal Wednesday morning at a Capitol news conference. The move comes one year after McCaskill and then-Sen.-elect Toomey penned a joint USA Today op-ed supporting a temporary moratorium on earmarks. Toomey is a freshman senator and a former president of the conservative Club for Growth; McCaskill is facing a competitive re-election bid next year.
Until last year’s lame duck session, earmarks had long been a hallmark of the way Congress has done business. But following a midterm election marked by voter anger at federal spending and the country’s record debt, a renewed emphasis on fiscal restraint in Washington meant that lawmakers could no longer steer money toward their pet projects.
Illustrative of the newly-changed environment on Capitol Hill was a $1.2 trillion appropriations bill Senate Democratic leaders brought to the floor last December. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was forced to withdraw the measure at the eleventh hour amid a filibuster from Republicans, many of whom had sought some of the $8 billion in the earmarks included in the measure only to turn against them in the wake of the GOP’s austerity-fueled midterm sweep.
House and Senate Republicans have adopted temporary, non-binding earmark bans, while a Senate measure last November that would have imposed a two-year earmark moratorium fell a few votes short of passage.
At less than 1 percent of discretionary spending, earmarks have typically accounted for only a tiny slice of the federal budget. But the move by lawmakers of both parties to permanently do away with them is a sign that the legislative pet projects remain a symbol of “business as usual” in Washington.
Proponents of earmarks have argued that the line items are an effective way of steering federal funds to infrastructure and other projects that need them; earmarks have also typically helped leaders to garner support for legislation by serving as sweeteners for reluctant lawmakers.
In an interview with Roll Call last month, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) took aim at the anti-earmarking push in Congress, arguing that such efforts have had the unintended consequence of leading lawmakers to seek funding from federal agencies.
“I am going to do everything to reinstate earmarks — or whatever you want to call them — because the Constitution is clear and it was never intended to have the executive branch do all of that,” Inouye said. “We are the ones who are called up to say to folks, ‘You are going to pay this tax.’ We have to have some say on how to spend it.”